Behind the scenes with Croydon’s disability DJs

By - Wednesday 10th August, 2016

Catherine Payne gets the lowdown on Croydon’s friendliest club night

Photo by Oliver Tipper, used with permission.

On 27th June, the Bad Apple nightclub hosted an evening of drinking, dancing and DJing. Yet this was not your regular drunken foray from Croydon’s many seasoned (and sauced) clubbers. In fact, this was a Monday night; which meant that it was Club Soda’s time to party. Club Soda is Croydon’s own pioneering not-for-profit arts organisation. It provides events and activities run by people with learning disabilities for people with learning disabilities, although anyone is welcome. On three much anticipated nights of the year, Club Soda hosts their Soda Crew DJ events at Bad Apple, where the organisation’s trained members are given the chance to DJ in the heart of Croydon’s nightlife.

Tony (aka DJ Mystical) has participated in Soda Crew events for the past two years, and spoke enthusiastically when he asserted that Bad Apple has a “good” and “welcoming” environment in which to “express yourself”. Tony says that he mainly does this by mixing old school pop with modern R’n’B, though he also relishes the chance to learn about different types of music during his training.

Both DJ Mystical and The Mix Doctor (otherwise known as Antony) long for these events to happen more often. During our chat, Antony emphatically insists that Club Soda needs “more funding to make events bigger and better”. Antony’s DJ-ing alter ego has taken shape since 1995, emboldening him to don what he claims is a 1980s Baywatch inspired blonde wig during performances. As the full picture of Soda Crew events emerges, it becomes evident that Antony is one among the many who believe that Club Soda is “worth fighting for”. He goes on to express his gratitude to Bad Apple for making it possible to pursue his passion and credits organisations such as Club Soda and Brighton’s ‘Kiss My Disco’ for igniting hopes to expand his DJ-ing career.

Club Soda nights are a condensed version of clubbing escapades

Clearly members of Club Soda are justifiably grateful for their partnership with Bad Apple, however the flipside affirms the arrangement to be mutually beneficial. The owner, Paul Bossick, was rightly pleased to have his establishment brimming with customers on a Monday night – not a claim that most clubs can make. Monday evenings are regularly occupied at Bad Apple, as it has also hosted DJ training for Club Soda participants thirty weeks of the year for the past three years.

Despite being understandably apprehensive of the unknown – i.e. holding regular training and events geared towards people with learning disabilities – staff were pleasantly surprised to learn that the preparation and procedures for such events is not so different from ‘regular’ nights. In fact the manager described Club Soda nights as being a condensed version of clubbing escapades, with a build-up and cool down taking place in the space of three hours. During this fleeting window endearingly stereotypical behaviour can be observed: open displays of turbulent love lives, spilled drinks, a “flamboyant gay guy”, and last but not least the scene is fully realized with a philandering young man with pretensions of being God’s gift to women.

Photo by Oliver Tipper, used with permission.

However, there are many instances in which Soda Crew events differ from regular business, many of them refreshingly positive. There seems to be a consensus among staff that working at a nightclub affords an unfettered view of the “worst of humanity”. Yet bar staff claim that Club Soda’s influence is restorative; customers are extra friendly, exceedingly polite and entirely appreciative. Journeying from entrance to bar, plenty of fond memories could be found. Security guards – who volunteer for their role during Club Soda events – recall nights filled with cheerful familiar faces, generous donations and even the odd impromptu marriage proposal. Despite working in security for nine years, security guard Aaron admits that Soda Crew events are the first of its kind that he’s encountered and claims that ‘regular’ club nights could stand to learn a thing or two from Club Soda soirées.

As is the case at most bars, bartenders are often privy to revealing encounters with a broad range of clientele. As mentioned above, this isn’t always a pleasant by-product of the profession. However, delving behind the scenes uncovers yet more charming Club Soda anecdotes. Bad Apple bartenders genuinely look forward to the “change of pace” and some “light hearted fun”, catching up with regular customers and listening to the eclectic range of DJs. A tale that particularly stood out was from Amber, who avidly collects bottle caps for a regular Soda Crew event patron, much to his delight.

It is easy to imagine how any job can be transformed into something more engaging when you are surrounded by multifarious personalities with earnest intentions to have some good, clean fun in a supportive and genuinely inclusive atmosphere. This is what Club Soda brings to the Bad Apple. From karaoke to raffle draws, quirky shenanigans and summer barbeques, Club Soda brings the best of humanity to Bad Apple. And most importantly, Bad Apple generously supports them in doing so.

Catherine Payne

Catherine Payne

Catherine was born in Croydon. She's a keen writer and humanities student with a particular interest in history and religious studies. She enjoys her role as a local volunteer.

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